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Aurangabad, A Historical City - Part I

Horse-shoe Curve at the start of the Ajanta Caves

I have fond memories of Aurangabad even as a child. But the experience of December 2019 trip was an enriching one.

As my better half Ganesh & I love to visit historical places, we planned a 4 nights & 5 days trip to Aurangabad. Initially, we had planned a road trip & had made necessary hotel arrangements. However, our car broke at the last moment & it was impossible for us to drive down to Aurangabad. Hence, as a last resort we tried our luck with Indian Railways (thanks to Manish - Ganesh's friend who assisted us in getting tickets) & finally we got the tickets of Tapovan Express. It was a huge sigh of relief as if we had failed to get the tickets, we would have lost on a memorable trip. Tapovan express leaves Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus at 06.15 hours & reaches Aurangabad station at 13.15 hours. December month is a holiday season and the train was crowded. We managed to get 2nd class seats which was a reason why I was upset initially & my mood changed only after reaching hotel in Aurangabad.

Day One :

On 14th December 2019, we reached Aurangabad station on time. We had booked 4 nights at Ginger Hotel. Ginger Hotel is very convenient for those coming by train. It is only 5 minutes drive from the station. The best thing about Ginger Hotel in Aurangabad is that it has spacious rooms compared to the Ginger hotels in other towns.

Ganesh's friend Manish who stays in Aurangabad met us before dinner & suggested us that the road to Ajanta is in a bad shape and that we should not drive in our personal / small cars and instead suggested that we should hire a SUV. He also went on to book the SUV for two families ours and his own.

Day Two :

As planned our day began early, waking up at 06.00 hours to be ready to leave by 08.00 hours. One good thing was that Breakfast was included in our package, so we filled our tummy's with the buffet breakfast which was available at Hotel.

Manish and Ashwini alongwith their daughter, Divya picked us from the hotel at the scheduled time & we finally started our trip to The UNESCO World Heritage site - Ajanta Caves. Ajanta Caves is located near a small town called Fardapur which is approximately 95 kms from Aurangabad. A word of caution for those who haven't had their breakfast, as the roadside dhabas are filthy and unhygienic and hence one has to be extremely careful in choosing the roadside dhabas for breakfast or Lunch.

TIP - Always have your breakfast at your hotel in Aurangabad before leaving for Ajanta.

Ajanta Caves :

Due to the bad condition of the road, it took us 4 hours to reach Ajanta Caves. Since Ajanta Caves are World Heritage site, Maharashtra Government has created a parking lot & shopping centre. The Maharashtra Government has also made bus arrangements for the tourists from the parking lot to the caves. The bus charges are Rs. 16/- per person to and fro trip. At the entry point to the caves there is a ticket counter. The cost of entry tickets is Rs. 40/- per person (Indian Citizens), Rs. 600/- (Foreign Citizens) and free for children below 15 years. There is a restaurant & a washroom just outside the ticket counter. You can relish your taste buds at the restaurant. As Ajanta Caves are World Heritage site Indian tourism & local authorities keep the premises & washrooms clean. Be sure that you carry enough drinking water as the 30 caves at Ajanta would take at least 3-4 hours to see the caves at the fullest.

After 10 minutes of stepped climb you can witness the famous horseshoe shaped mountain of Ajanta Caves. By the time we reached the first cave, the sun was scorching above our heads. The Ajanta Caves are horizontally carved in the mountain between 2nd century BC & 7th century AD & served as sanctuaries for Buddhist monks. These 30 rock cut Buddhist caves are a perfect specimen of Indian Mural Paintings. The Ajanta caves overlook a narrow gorge through which Waghora stream / rivulet flows. These caves were accidentally discovered in 1819 by a band of British officers during their hunting expeditions.

Tip : For senior citizens or persons who are not able to climb the tourism board has kept 'A Palakhi' for them to be carried to the caves.

One can visit the caves after reading a book on Ajanta & referring to the artistic paintings & the meanings mentioned in the book. But, in order to boost local economy we normally prefer a local guide & hence we finalised the guide to show us around the caves. The guides in Ajanta normally charge around Rs. 1000/- for the tour of all the caves. However, one has to be more inquisitive & keep on questioning the Guide to get more information about the sculptures and paintings in the caves.

TIP for the Tourists - DO NOT USE THE FLASH while taking photos inside the caves. The flashlight damages the paintings which are 2000 years old. Also do not touch the carvings /paintings in the caves.

The caves are mainly divided into 2 categories - 1. The Chaitya-grihas & 2. Monasteries. The Chaitya-grihas are characterised by a vaulted ceilings, the exterior facade being dominated by huge horseshoe shaped window over the doorway. Internally the Chaitya-grihas are divided into central hall and side isles. At the center of the hall stands the object of worship in the form of Chaitya or the Stupa or the Idol. It is interesting to note that all these caves dates pre christen era. Though there are 30 caves in Ajanta we will be only focusing on important caves.

Cave 1 : Bodhisattva Cave or Bodhistava Padmapani

The cave has 20 octagonal pillars which have beautiful ornamental designs on them. A small pillared ante-chamber opposite the entrance door leads into the sanctum in which the colossal statue of Buddha is seated in Vajrasana posture. When the light shines on the statue we can feel 3 emotions of seriousness, penance & peace from 3 different angles. The panels on the walls outside the ante-chamber are dominated by towering figures of Bodhisattvas. The walls of the cave depict important incidents from the life of Buddha. The famous painting in this cave is of Bodhisattva Padmapani where we can see Buddha holding the Padma (Lotus) in one hand which is a symbol of peace & holiness. Flowers, trees, fruits, birds, etc. are painted on the roof.

The paintings are made using grass, fine particles of rock, soil etc. & the natural elements are used for colours. We saw that every inch of this cave was originally painted but unfortunately, much of the paintings have peeled off and now we can see the patches in those places.

Cave 2 :

This Monastery though smaller in dimension is similar to Cave 1. This Cave has a richly carved doorway, flanged by decorated window on either side, giving access to a pillared hall. The cave is known for it's ceiling paintings of the hall, ante-chamber, shrine and varandah. The painting on the ceiling has a variety of designs including floral patterns, birds, fruits, flying figures and ornamental motives.

The painting on the ceiling is a bit wavy to give depiction of cloth of Mandapa. This is astonishing as to how the monks painted it on the ceiling 2000 years back.

Cave 4 :

Buddhist Stupa

This is the largest monastery at Ajanta, planned in an ambitious manner but never finished. The hall has 28 pillars arranged in a square and few pillars have rich carved columns on the back row. There is a pair of gatekeepers on the door. The walls of the ante-chamber are carved with 6 figures of Buddha.

Cave 7 :

The plan of this monastery differs from the other monasteries. The shrine in this cave has a seated idol of Buddha with an elliptical halo carved on the back wall. There are also six standing figures of Buddha carved on the wall of the shrine. Below them are the seated figures of Buddha.

Cave 10 :

Buddhist Stupa

This is the oldest Chaitya-grih and most probable the earliest excavation at Ajanta. This cave has 39 pillars. There is also a stupa, on which there is a plaque in Brahmi script.

Cave 16 :

This cave is one of the most beautiful monasteries at Ajanta. There is a gigantic statue of Buddha in teaching attitude seated in Pralamba-pada posture. The panels in this cave depicts some of the events of the Lord Buddha's life.

Cave 17 :

This monastery which has preserved the largest number of murals is noted for the number of master-pieces. The murals in this cave depicts the pre-birth of the Buddha. The roof of this hall is very beautiful. Jataka tales are depicted amongst the paintings in this cave.

Our guide was excited to show us a special mural painting of an Apsara with a necklace painted around her neck. When our guide focused his torch-light on this necklace the pearls in the painting shone as if they are real pearls. This painting of Apsara near the panel to the right of the door speak about the exquisite skills of the painter even in such damaged condition.

Cave 19 :

Buddhist Stupa

This is a small but singularly well proportioned Chaitya-grih and is one of the most perfect specimen of Buddhist rock cut architecture. This is one of the most earliest built Chaitya-grihas and is suppose to be built around 5th century AD. This Chaitya-grih maintains the older plan with some changes in the image of Buddha on the stupa. There are 3 umbrella stupas in the hall and the vaulted ceiling has an imitation of wooden adjuncts which persists in its stone ribs. This stupa is supposed to have been built in the Mahayana period of Buddhism.

Cave 26 :

Reclining Buddha

This Chaitya-grih is larger than cave 19 but follows same arrangement as in the other caves. The Buddha seated in Pralamba-pada attitude is carved on the stupa. The crowning members above the stupa have crumbled down. The isles in this Chaitya-grih are relieved by a scene representing Mahaparinirvana of Buddha. This scene of Mahaparinirvana of Buddha is captured in various countries such as Thailand, Sri Lanka and is called as the 'Sleeping Buddha'.

After completing the tour of the caves, we took exit route of the caves, the route lead us to a bridge on the gorge which bifurcates the caves and the observation post opposite the caves.

The observation post gives a panoramic view of the Horseshoe shaped mountain. Though after a 2 and 1/2 hours of walking around the caves we were exhausted to climb the observation post which was just 15-20 minutes gradual climb. However, Ganesh being a trekker & amateur photographer couldn't miss this golden opportunity of capturing the horseshoe mountain in his camera and took it on his shoulders to click a photo for the group. I think he was most energetic amongst us.

Thus, thoroughly exhausted but satisfied we returned to Aurangabad. Our Hosts, took us to a pizza corner in Aurangabad’s Ulkapuri area. Co-street Café served us most refreshing pizzas and cold coffee.

After a sumptuous pizza dinner, we returned to our hotel room. We immediately dozed off as the days’ tiring journey.

Tip for Lunch near Ajanta Caves : There are couple of dhabas near Fardapur (on the main road), one can have lunch in those Dhabas. Must try is Lassi or Chhas here. The other places around Ajanta caves are not good for having food.

Yeola :

Another major attraction for visiting Aurangabad is Paithani Sarees. Manish guided us regarding the best place to purchase Paithani was Yeola. Yeola is located around 115 kms from Aurangabad. Normally, it would take around 2 & 1/2 hours drive to reach Yeola from Aurangabad. But at a stretch of 8 kms was an under constructed road due to which our journey has extended by half an hour. On reaching Yeola we first visited Yeola Paithani Tourism Centre. This tourism centre is spread around 20000 sq.ft. area. The Centre displays how the Paithani is woven & what are the raw materials used for making a Paithani & how the handloom functions. There were Paithanies also displayed for sale along with other items. After a short tour of 1 hour we left the Paithani Centre to purchase a Paithani from one of the local manufacturer (B. R. Bakle).

As the Manish had called Shri Bakle and informed them about our visit, they were eagerly waiting for us. At first they showed us their factory and how the Paithani is woven and that a saree takes 3-4 months to be fully ready. They informed us that they have Paithani in silk as well as in cotton. The factory and the sales outlet of Shri Bakle, Hastakala Paithani is located in Yeola Market, opposite Kshatriya Hospital (Ganga Darwaja Road) Tel No. 02559-265210.

After purchasing Paithani we returned to Aurangabad. We had our lunch in Aurangabad. We tried our luck for shopping Himroo Shawls but they were expensive. It was then that Manish suggested us to shop near Verul Village where the shawls are not as expensive.

We still have two more days in Aurangabad and we planned to visit some more important sites near Aurangabad. So, keep checking our blog for Lonar Lake, Verul Caves and Deogiri Fort.

To be continued…..

Mohini Nabar

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